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Classic film review: Gaslight (1944)

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By Teon. Owen. Cromwell, Jr.

Ten years after Alice Alquist was murdered in her home, her niece, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) and Paula’s new husband, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), take up residence in the house. After Paula discovers a letter from a mysterious and unknown man named Sergis Bauer, strange occurrences begin to happen around the home. Paula begins to fear that she is going mad, and the couple’s new maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), does nothing to improve the situation. When Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) appears on the scene Paula believes he can help her solve the mystery of these occurrences before she is driven insane.

Released in May of 1944, Gaslight is a mystery-thriller from MGM Studios and legendary director George Cukor. The is an adaptation of a very successful play which was later made into a successful 1940 film. MGM purchased the rights with the stipulation that all prints of the previous film be destroyed including, but not limited to, destroying the negative. These efforts proved ultimately to be unsuccessful. The film earned Bergman her second Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress, and her first win. However, this almost never happened. When David O. Selznick (with whom Bergman was under contract with at the time) found out that Charles Boyer's contract guaranteed him top billing, Selznick initially refused to loan Bergman to MGM. It was only after pleading from Bergman that Selznick finally relented. The film was also Angela Lansbury’s debut and garnered her an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

The plot is simple, and there are moments where the film seems a bit dated, but that all pales in comparison once you see the whole picture. In many ways, the film was ahead of its time. The performances are one of the main selling points of the film. Ingrid Bergman unequivocally deserved her Oscar, taking a character which could have been one dimensional and making her sympathetic, engaging even. Charles Boyer does such a fantastic job at portraying the antagonist that there may be moments where you might find yourself yelling at the screen. Although the story does, of course, have some less plausible elements it is written, directed and acted superbly enough that the seams rarely show. At the end of the day, Gaslight is a fantastic psychological thriller (in the vein of the best Hitchcock) which has held-up for 70 years, and will continue to do so for many more.

  • Directed by — George Cukor
  • Produced by — Arthur Hornblow Jr
  • Written by — John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John L. Balderston Gas Light (based on the play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton)
  • Starring — Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury
  • Music by — Bronisław Kaper
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